The recent discussion has been about the sale of eggs, prompted by the offer of an egg as a door-prize at an ART clinic in the UK. At the risk of endlessly prolonging this topic, I wanted to recommend a fascinating article from a Canadian magazine called The Walrus. It’s called The Human Egg Trade and it is by Allison Motluk.
One reason it is interesting is that Canada prohibits payment to women for their eggs. Indeed, the Assisted Human Reproduction Act expressly outlaws the purchase (and sale) of human eggs. While the Royal Commission that recommended the Act accepted the use of third-party gametes in ART, it declared that payment for eggs was “never acceptable.”
In theory this means that ART in Canada relies on what are called “altruistic donors” (and here perhaps the term “donor” is appropriate, since the idea is that the woman would not be paid.) But as the article makes clear, the reality is nothing like what was intended. Regulations to enable the framework set out in the Act have never been enacted. Even the people in charge of administering the watchdog agency do not know what the rules really are. And in the midst of all this, money changes hands in a variety of ways.
In part it seems to me that this article reflects the impossibility of prohibitions in an era of globalization, particularly for Canada, which sits just north of what is likely the largest essentially unregulated free-market for ART. While the phrase “fertility tourists” might conjure up European couples travelling thousands of miles to India to hire surrogates, it could just as well refer to Canadians travelling several hundred miles south to buy necessary supplies.
At the same time, the article documents, in painful detail, the intrusive medical procedures endured by women who would provide their eggs to another. I hope it will be a good long while before I blithely equate egg and sperm providers.
It seems wrong-headed to me to allow the use of third-party gametes, which is essentially inviting women to offer their eggs, and then to refuse to pay women for the time, the discomfort/pain, and the risks of very serious complications. It’s all well and good to say you’ll rely on altruistic donors, but there won’t be enough. A shadowy underground market is sure to develop, and that will almost assuredly put women in a far worse position.
Rather than drive the trade underground, which is what Canada seems to have accomplished, it seems to me it would be better to bring it right out in the open, perhaps to regulate it, and to ensure that the women who are willing to sell their eggs can do so as safely and comfortably as possible.